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Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common form of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. According to the Heart Rhythm Society, three million adults in the United States are estimated to have AFib. Left untreated, AFib can lead to stroke. In fact, people with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke than those without AFib.

AFib occurs when the electrical signals of the heart are not functioning properly. Normally, the electrical signals cause the heart muscle to contract and pump blood in a regular pattern. With AFib, the signals are disorganized and cause the atria (two upper chambers of the heart) to quiver or beat too rapidly. This prevents blood from effectively pumping to the ventricles (two lower chambers of the heart). When blood is not pumped properly, the body is not getting the oxygen-rich blood it needs. It can also cause blood to pool in the heart and form a blood clot. This could lead to a stroke.

Causes of AFib
For some people, there is no known cause of AFib. But AFib can be related to other conditions such as coronary artery disease, structural defects of the heart or valves, thyroid disease, high blood pressure, and lung disease.

Men are more likely to develop AFib. However, women are more likely to die prematurely from it. Age is a risk factor with many people starting to experience AFib in their 50s.

Symptoms
According to the Heart Rhythm Society, the most common symptom of AFib is feeling overtired or having a lack of energy. Other symptoms of AFib include:

  • Pulse that is faster than normal or changing between fast and slow and feels irregular
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing, pounding, or fluttering)
  • Trouble with everyday exercises or activities
  • Pain, pressure, tightness or discomfort in your chest
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
  • Increased urination (using the bathroom more often)

Some people with AFib may not feel any symptoms, while others can feel symptoms as soon as they happen. Symptoms can be different for each person and can depend on age, the cause of the AFib, and how much the pumping of the heart is affected.

To estimate your risk for AFib, take an AFib Risk Assessment. If you have concerns that you may have AFib, talk with your doctor.

Treatment
If diagnosed and properly treated, AFib is usually not life-threatening. However, if left untreated, AFib increases a person’s risk of stroke, congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart). The goal of treatment is to return the heart rate to a normal rhythm if possible. Other goals include controlling the heart rate, preventing blood clots from forming, treating the cause(s) of AFib and any complications, and reducing the risk factors that can cause the AFib to get worse.

Treatment options for AFib include:

  • Medications (rhythm control medications, rate control medications, blood thinners)
  • Cardioversion
  • Catheter Ablation
  • Surgical Ablation

AFib Ablation
Electrophysiologists at The Medical Center can treat atrial fibrillation (AF) with a non-surgical procedure called atrial fibrillation ablation or AFib ablation. Performed in the Cardiac Cath Lab, AFib ablation uses 3D technology to create a map of the heart that helps guide the delivery of radiofrequency energy. The heat created by this energy destroys small areas of heart tissue to block the abnormal electrical signals that cause the irregular heart rhythm. The goal of AFib ablation is to cure or reduce the episodes of AF.